While you search for the restaurant Kanin, it may come as some surprise when your navigation app leads you to the R Nite Star Inn and Suites. Once inside you'll find yourself in the lobby where a sign leads you to the back. A few steps down the short ramp opens up to a large space with a bar to the left, a stage to the far right and a few tables and a dance floor in between. The motel swimming pool serves as a backdrop and a nonstop medley of Sade songs sets the mood. It’s all a bit peculiar but adds to the curiosity and the allure of the experience.
Dining room, dance floor and karaoke stage complete with proper Filipino refreshments mango juice, calamansi juice and buko milk drink
Kanin is the restaurant for the R Nite Star, a motel along Highway 360 in Arlington, serving Filipino cuisine in the form of Boodle Bila-o, a Sunday buffet and a la carte items. Kanin previously operated as Tikim at the Ben Thanh Plaza food court in Arlington and has been in this new location since March.
Owner Vilma Rice welcomes you and automatically becomes your tita for the day (Tagalog for aunt). If it’s your first time trying Filipino food, she is the best possible resource; she lives for authentic Filipino cooking and warm hospitality, as all titas do.
“There’s a lot of great authentic food back home and I want to bring that here and for people to taste it,” Rice says. The cuisine of the Philippines has no ordinary flavor, being salty, acidic and funky. It aims for minimal waste of ingredients and maximum flavor.
Sisig: spicy, fatty, crispy and aromatic pork belly topped with fried egg and served on a sizzling plate.
Sisig, the restaurant’s most popular item, comes with a choice of pork belly or bangus (milkfish), chopped and mixed with garlic, onion, ginger and chili, topped with a fried egg and served on a sizzling plate. The result is complex textures and flavors, where the egg yolk operates as a smooth finisher, sort of like a smooth operator.
Cebuchon: pork belly prepared “Cebuano” style and stuffed with shrimp
Other popular dishes are crispy pata (deep fried pork leg) and cebuchon lechon (pork belly) made Cebuano style prepared with lemongrass and other herbs. If you’re feeling adventurous, request it to be stuffed with shrimp.
You may be familiar with kamayan feasts (also known as “boodle fights”), a large-format meal at which an entire table is covered in banana leaves then topped with various entrees all to be eaten with your hands, sans utensils. Kanin serves a smaller and portable version of this feast with a Boodle Bila-o platter, where banana leaves cover a large flat bamboo tray (see photo at top).
A number of bila-o platters are offered, with various proteins including inihaw na manok (grilled chicken), pork barbecue sticks, grilled mackerel and pompano fish, lumpia (fried spring rolls), pancit (stir fry noodles), just to name a few. These dishes are served with a mound of rice and sides of sasawan, vinegar-based dipping sauces, to be paired with the grilled and fried items. The smallest platter feeds two to three, so it’s best to come with a group — better yet, go in full kamayan style. Gloves are available but don’t be afraid to get messy, which is how this meal is intended to be eaten.
Kanin's Sunday buffet is the best way to try a lot of Filipino dishes at once. In addition to the grilled entrees, be sure to try the saucy adobo, the national dish of the Philippines made with either chicken or pork braised in vinegar and soy sauce. Or try sinigang, a tamarind-based soup filled with various vegetables and seafood.
Desserts galore: bibingka, champurrado, buko pie, puto rice cakes and puto bumbong (Photo by Vilma Rice)
Sweet and unique desserts offered include bibingka (baked rice cake), champurrado (chocolate rice porridge), puto (steamed rice cake) and buko (coconut) pie, which could be served a la mode with ube (purple yam) ice cream. For a taste of paradise, try a calamansi drink. One look at the fruit and you may ask, “Is it a lime?” Not quite, but the citrus hybrid is considered a sweeter version of it.
At this new location, a massive kitchen adds to the large format dining experience, but the open space and stage allow for entertainment too. Karaoke, a favorite pastime for Filipinos, is on Thursday and Friday nights. Live bands usually perform on Saturday nights. Music comes as naturally to Rice as cooking; she was a traveling jazz singer before opening this restaurant.
Head chef and owner Vilma Rice (center) with the Kanin team: Carmen Panares (sous chef). Ti-ay (bartender), Sherrie Hoskins (sous chef), May Ann Echaore (chef and co-owner), and John Panares (DJ).
She is from the island of Cebu in the Philippines, and food was always Rice's family business, but early on she charted her own path as a professional singer. After traveling across the United States, she eventually settled in Texas and fell back on her family’s cooking and recipes. What started as a catering gig gradually grew into the full-fledged restaurant it is today with the help of her co-owner May Ann Echaore and R Nite Star Inn owner Rina Ker.
Rice is constantly looking for inspiration, whether that means learning new techniques from different cultures of the Philippines' 7,600-plus islands, or asking for open feedback from her customers. “We love feedback, that’s how you grow,” she said.
For those familiar with Filipino cuisine, one taste at Kanin will bring you home. For others new to the flavors, no doubt it will be an experience. If all else fails, you can pick out your favorite Sade song and hit the stage for a little karaoke.
Kanin, located inside R Nite Star Inn & Suites, 1175 N Watson Road (Arlington), 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday